God's Gift of Rest - Part 1

Busy: The Primer for God's Gift

“I’m busy…” or “I’m tired; there’s a lot going on right now.” These are two of the most common answers I get (and honestly give) in response to the “How are you?” question. “Busy” seems to be one of the most common lifestyles, so the discussion of work and rest is in the best interest of all people, not simply individuals in the church. The results of “the world’s largest survey on the topic” conducted in 2016 confirm this reality: from over 18,000 surveyed in 134 different countries, 68% say they would like more rest. According to one researcher, "the urge to be busy defines modern life," which only supports our need to consider the topic of rest. (article here

The Bible talks a lot about rest through the term "Sabbath." The cited study above affirms the benefit of something God has already given (and called us to embrace), which should never surprise us because it is God who has crafted the human psyche and the physical realities that come along with being human. One of those realities is our limitedness, and I'd suggest it is a gift. (what?!) Yep, limitations are a gift. Knowing (or being shown) our limits is something that marks us as created beings, and when we live in a proper rhythm of work and resting from work we begin tasting some of what God crafted from the beginning of human history. And what helps reveal our limits? Among other things, being busy. Our busyness only increases our struggle to cope with the limits we face, pressing work tasks into the late hours and early mornings, convinced that weekends are extra time, and slowly finding that all the work in the world will not address our limits. There is something else...

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In this post, we’ll consider what God has given His creatures and one overarching benefit. In a follow up post we will talk in more detail about other reasons God gave us Sabbath as well as other benefits of receiving this gift.

God has Gifted Rest

That’s right; God has GIVEN rest to humanity by commanding it and by modeling it. Hang with me and look at God’s actions like the actions of a good dad; let’s say... the best Dad.

God actually commanded Sabbath… because He’s the perfect Parent

Some are already turned off. The word “command” is why it is so easy to say “that was for yesteryear.” But that is what the Bible says:

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work… (Ex. 20:8-10)

The verbs “remember and you shall” are both command verbs. God is giving specific instructions, and in His manual of “Best Practices for Life with Him and Others” He intentionally marks the priority of rest. Just as when a parent foresees their child’s need for rest after a full day in the hot sun, knowing that “exhausted” will be written across their forehead by dinner time, they turn down a late night movie opportunity for the sake of their child’s rest. God has foreseen our limits and our needs and His response was instructing the priority of rest. God tells you to rest because He loves you.

But let’s apply that parent model to a teenager, who is now thoroughly observing what a parent says vs. what a parent does; very quickly the instruction of the parent can be judged “empty” when a parent does the opposite of what is being required by the teen. E.g., a parent tells the teen not to put too much pressure on themselves to “fit in” with others at school, and instead to “be themselves.” This instruction might be poorly received when the teen just watched three days of stress arguments and anxiety attacks concerning the “presentation of the house” as the parents planned that dinner party last weekend.

God is not like all of us flawed parents; He has perfectly modeled what He is instructing as we note that these commands come after what is modeled by God. 

God actually modeled Sabbath… because He’s the perfect Parent

In Genesis 1, as He finished up creation, God rested. God did not stop because He was tired… He stopped because He was loving, and He made human beings to model (in a smaller form) who He is, what He does, and HOW He does it. Knowing the limits of His people and the need for their rest, He rested to model it for us. This is the reason given in Exodus as to why the people of God should “honor the Sabbath” and cease from their work -- because God rested:

For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Ex. 20:11)

Why stop working for one day in seven? The word "for" links to the answer: because God did it. God shows us that ceasing from work is an act of mirroring His own action, one that is necessary for the flourishing of our souls.

God continued to model the right interaction with Sabbath when He joined us in our humanity. 

Jesus perfectly modeled the mode of rest that we should observe. We know that He treated Sabbath differently, as Luke 4:16: says, “as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day….” Although we do not have a strict outline of how His career as a carpenter interacted wth Sabbath before ministry, we can be confident that He followed the Jewish custom regularly of honoring the Sabbath with the worship of God, and based on the lack of accusation concerning dishonoring the Sabbath it is safe to conclude that He treated it like every other Jew: as a day of rest. There was nothing abnormal about His Sabbath interaction until He stepped into ministry and began correcting some misuses of the Sabbath. More in the next post on this. 

The summary is that Jesus, living in the midst of broken humanity, modeled a practice of regular Sabbath which affirms the application of rest for our lives today. Hear that? Jesus did it; so can you.

ONE Benefit and Application: Taking time to See the Hand of God

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When busyness is at its peak, the only way to survive is tucking your head and pushing the plow with greater vigor to the end. That is what will naturally happen when we refuse to stop and look around. By using the Sabbath appropriately, we are receiving God’s gift of stopping, which then allows us to witness God’s continued work on our behalf.

Interestingly, this is outlined for us in the other Old Testament recording of the 10 Commandments. Exodus explained we should rest from work because God rested from work. Deuteronomy outlines the purpose of Sabbath in connection to God’s salvation from slavery:

Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day” (Dt. 5:15).

Let that sink in, and let that be our application: We have the command of Sabbath displayed as a gift to His people in order to be a constant reminder of Who does the saving. 

Rest and reflection is a gift because we need relief from the pressure to solve every problem in our life, correct every chaos, and order every detail. God says to cease, take a deep breath, and enjoy looking around. Receive the gift of rest just as you received the gift of salvation—by grace, apart from your achievements and strengths. The ONLY antidote to our busyness and the only right result of seeing our limitations is looking to God, and remembering that our work does not save. When we rest, we are displaying faith in the God who saves.

When you actually rest, two things can happen:

  1. You will be able to slow down enough to see what has been accomplished (even in the face of the long list of what still stands undone). The plowman looks up to see that 3/4 of the field has been dug into neat rows, ready for planting. And we can praise God and allow Him to refill our tank to finish the work before us next week.
  2. You can slow down enough to see that God has been working in other ways and in other areas than what you have had your eye on. The plowman is able to glance to the field he plowed and planted last month and see there are sprouts of green already starting to push through the ground. And we can praise God who does not rest from caring for us and redeeming our world. Look around and see there is much to praise God for... even in our busy seasons.

So let us think differently about God’s call to rest. See how God has provided a gift you wouldn’t naturally choose for yourself but deep down you know you need. Fight for your Sabbath, work hard towards your Sabbath, and when you get there look around to see what God has been doing. You may find that He’s been harder at work for your sake than you ever knew, because He is, after all, the perfect parent.

...Next time we’ll consider other reasons for Rest and more of why Rest is for our good.